Blog posts

Exploring ways to decarbonise heat in Chilean cities

Jorge Salgado Contreras

Chile is committing to decarbonising its electricity sector with a target of 60% renewable power by 2035, but there are still some challenges with decarbonising the heat sector. Chileans still rely heavily on natural gas to heat their homes. Jorge Salgado Contreras from Chile, visited the Sustainable Gas Institute for two months, funded by the Chilean National Commission for Science and Technology, and tasked with investigating ways of developing heat decarbonisation pathways for cities in Chile. We interviewed Jorge about his research.

What is your background?  

I am an industrial engineer and now Head of the Electrical and Electronics Department at Inacap in Punta Arenas University, Chile. I have combined experience in the energy sector, working in academic, private and public sectors. In the private sector, I have worked for both the national gas retailer (Intergas Inc) on both business development and the technical side, as well as in an energy start-up. I also worked for the Ministry of Energy of Chile, on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, where I was in charge of cogeneration initiatives and lead the long-term energy plans for two cities in Patagonia.

How did you find out about the Sustainable Gas Institute, and what first sparked your interest in working here?

I found the Sustainable Gas Institute website, and it was actually the name that first caught my attention. I really liked the aims of the Institute as it is clear we cannot move to 100% renewables straight away, and a transition is necessary. I also thought the White Paper Series is really trying to address some unresolved issues. Even though the reports are written by academics, they are very influential from a policy context.

The energy mix in Chile (Source: Ministry of Energy, Chile).

Your project is to understand how to decarbonise heat for Chile. Can you tell us why it’s so important an issue?

Chile is actually very cold, especially the southern end which is where I am from; it can go below -10 °C. While Chile has ambitious climate targets to increase renewables to 70% by 2050, these targets have only been set for the electricity sector and there are little targets, plans or research taking place to reduce the emissions intensity of the heat sector.

We currently use so many energy to heat our homes in Chile.  Fortunately, Chile does have a good renewables portfolio (22% renewables),  increasingly with solar and wind. However, in my region (Magallanes and chilean Antarctica, Chile), we still use natural gas to heat our homes, as you do in the UK. We do have access to our own natural gas and biomass but in other regions, for example in Southern Chile, natural gas is imported from overseas. The natural gas subsidy for residential and commercial use in the Magallanes region is around 100 million US$/year and represents about 70% of the Chilean Ministry of Energy National Budget.

What is the project about and who have you been working with?  

I have been trying to understand whether we can work with low-carbon options such as hydrogen to decarbonise the existing gas grid infrastructure. In Chile, there is not much research taking place to understand the role of hydrogen in heat decarbonisation.

I have also been looking at the use of electrification and technologies, such as heat pumps. The recent report by the UK Committee on Climate Change into this was very useful as a case study. The idea is to adapt for the Chilean context, and we could move forward towards a low carbon economy by replacing natural gas with hydrogen.

At the Institute, I have been mainly working with both Dr. Paul Balcombe (an expert in the supply chain for hydrogen) and Dr. Francisca Jalil Vega  (who is highly knowledgeable about various heat decarbonisation options).

And finally, have you enjoyed your time at Imperial College? What do you plan to do next?

Map of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I am hoping to publish a paper with Francisca and Paul, and I will continue working on this during the coming months. I might be speaking in a congress and will present my work to the Ministry of Energy in Chile.

It has been great working at Imperial College because it such a world-class international university and I really like the interdisciplinary environment. There are so many people doing relevant research here!

Read Jorge’s biography on the Sustainable Gas Institute website.

Header Photo: Picture of Torres del Paine in Patagonia in Chile (Source: Pixabay).

BLOG: The importance of decarbonising transport for meeting global emission targets

Dr. Francisca Jalil, a Research Associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute shares some insights from this year’s Sustainable Gas Research and Innovation 2018 conference.

In late September 2018, I attended the Sustainable Gas Research and Innovation (SGRI) conference, at the University of São Paulo, in Brazil. Our Institute hosts this conference every year with the Research Centre for Gas Innovation with the theme being around reducing the environmental impact of natural gas and also addressing topics such as  Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS), and other carbon sequestration, storage, or usage technologies. The conference was especially interesting for me because of the range of topics from very detailed and local technological solutions (or process designs) to global energy systems models, in which the whole world’s energy sector and economic activities are modeled in long-term horizons.

One of the main things that caught my attention at this conference were the number of topics around the decarbonisation of transport. Reducing emissions and the carbon intensity of transport is an urgent matter for meeting the 1.5-2oC targets. It is also the topic of our Institutes next White Paper.

According to a recent report by the Mobile Lives Forum, after the energy sector, the transport sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, while world energy use in the power sector is decreasing, transport emissions continue to grow and might become the largest emitter by 2050. But it is also a very complex sector to decarbonise because of the lack of alternative low carbon technologies, especially for aviation, shipping, and heavy-duty road transport. These sectors are also very under-regulated when compared to light duty vehicles, for example being subject to very low or no fuel taxation. In addition to these complexities, transport is also a challenging sector to model compared to other economic sectors, as it has mobile demands. This is especially true for passenger and individual transport, as re-fuelling locations and times are always varying. This presents an additional challenge for modelling transport compared to -for example- heat demand in buildings, where locations are fixed and loads are predictable along days and seasons.

At the conference, I listened to several presentations on decarbonising transport, particularly road freight and shipping. According to the aforementioned report by the Mobile Lives Forum, out of the 14 countries studied Brazil had the second highest share of carbon emissions associated to transport in relation to the total carbon emissions of each country. This is, the transport sector in Brazil accounts for 44.8% of the country’s total carbon emissions, just closely after New Zealand with 44.9%.

The first talk that caught my attention was about how current road freight transport is so heavily reliant on diesel. The investigators used life cycle assessment to contrast this current scenario with natural gas and other diesel alternatives as potential substitutes. The study concluded that natural gas as an alternative fuel produces a quarter of diesel’s carbon emissions and almost no air pollutants at combustion point and that natural gas outperforms diesel in all environmental indicators studied.

Another talk highlighted research that compared liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a shipping fuel, with heavy fuel oil (HFO), marine diesel oil (MDO) and methanol from natural gas. The researchers concluded that as long as methane emissions produced in the engine and supply chain of LNG are controlled and kept under a certain limit, LNG as a shipping fuel can produce lower climate impacts compared to liquid fuels across all timescales. However, they emphasise the need to avoid supply chains with high embodied emissions of methane (this is, methane emitted throughout the processes associated with the whole extraction/production, transport, delivery, and use of fuels).

The third talk was about the use of natural gas in heavy goods shipping. The study emphasised that when looking at natural gas in shipping for diminishing GHG emissions and air pollution, it is very important to analyse the different engine types- which produce varying emissions or benefits across the range- together with the supply chain, to avoid embodied emissions. The researchers also proposed future policy options to regulate or incentivise certain production routes, in order to take advantage of cleaner methods.

Overall, the take-home messages for me were:

1) It is imperative to reduce emissions associated to heavy duty transport to stay on the path of our emission reduction goals.

2) When comparing fuel decarbonisation alternatives, it is very important to analyse not only different engine and fuel types, but also to take into account the different fuel production routes and life cycle emissions as these can have big impact.

3) As highlighted and recommended by one of these researchers and by the IEA, policies on transport “must raise the costs of owning and operating the modes with highest GHG emissions intensity to stimulate investments and purchases of energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies and modes”. This is, policies in transport need to be oriented towards making it expensive to use high-emitting transport modes, and cheaper to switch to cleaner transportation modes.

About Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation conference

The Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation 2018 conference brings stakeholders together to meet; share knowledge, exchange ideas, gain insight, and showcase expertise to fully understand the role of natural gas in the global energy landscape. This year’s event was included in the schedule of the Brazil-United Kingdom Year of Science and Innovation.

About Francisca

Francisca joined the Sustainable Gas Institute in May 2018, after completing her PhD in Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London. Francisca also holds an MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures from Imperial, and a Mechanical Engineering degree and MSc in Mechanical Engineering from Universidad de Chile.


VIDEO: My research in a nutshell – Sandro on reducing industry emissions

How to reduce emissions from industry?

By the time you finish your masters, you’ll know your thesis inside out. We challenged one of our researchers at the Sustainable Gas Institute to explain their research in a short one minute video as part of the ‘Research in a Nutshell Series’.

Sandro Luh is a visiting Masters student from the ETH Zurich. He is using the MUSE energy systems model to examine the potential of different strategies for reducing CO2 emissions in the industrial sector. This includes measures such as fuel switching, electrification and Carbon Capture & Storage.

The industrial sector is a key sector to decarbonise as it accounts for 24% of the total global CO2 emissions (2014).

If you want to find out more about Sandro’s work, read our short interview with him.

Video and Blog post: Challenges to the Future of Gas: unburnable or unaffordable?

A.) A short Q&A video with Jonathan

This year’s Sustainable Gas Research Annual Lecture was given by Professor Jonathan Stern, Natural Gas Research at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

We caught up with Jonathan before the talk to ask him about his research work.

Here’s the short Q&A interview on YouTube.

We asked Jonathan two questions:

As an expert in the world of gas markets, what do you think the role of the gas will be in the future? Can gas help us to decarbonise?

“Gas can help us decarbonise in the future but its not really easy to generalise across a lot of different countries and regions. In some countries gas will have a big role and in other countries it will not. It depends on how far you look ahead particularly the next 10 to 20 years.”

Could you describe very briefly what you mean by the key challenges for gas (unburnable and unaffordable) that you mention in your talk?

“By unburnable, I mean the challenge of phasing out the carbon element of gas in countries where targets are very important which is European and Some US states, and also in Japan and Australia.

But in the rest of the world, the more major challenge to gas is that people will not be able to afford it. In other words, it will be too expensive in relation to either the absolute level of income or because other fuels like coal or renewables will be cheaper. This is what we see in much of the developing world.”

If you would like to download the report, please visit the OIES website.

B.) A summary blog post: “A future of gas”

Sandro Luh, a research student at the Institute, has also written a short blog post for Energy Futures Lab.

The blog post summarises Jonathan’s talk and provides some of the key take-home messages.

You can read the article on Energy Futures Lab’s blog.

SGI work in partnership with Enagás to improve our understanding of methane emissions

Clarifying methane climate metrics, estimating uncertainties and exploring the sustainability of LNG as a shipping fuel.

Imperial College London and Enagás (the Spanish natural gas transmission company and Technical Manager of the Spanish gas systemthe Spanish energy company operating the national gas grid) are working together to shed some light on methane emissions from natural gas systems.

Researchers at the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI) at Imperial have embarked on an intensive 9-month project to independently review the contribution methane emissions on climate change and to investigate the sustainability of LNG as a shipping fuel.

Dr Paul Balcombe, based in the Department of Chemical Engineering, explains the motivations behind the study:

“We know that emissions from shipping vessels have a significant impact on global climate change. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuelled shipping could potentially reduce the carbon footprint of the maritime industry relative to other marine fuels. But LNG’s sustainability credits as a marine fuel still need to be explored as natural gas is still a fossil fuel. We need the whole picture, and our focus will be on examining methane emissions.”

Combining knowledge and tools

The research is follow-on work from the SGI’s first White Paper which assessed the current knowledge of methane and CO2 emissions globally coming from the whole natural gas supply chain (i.e. extraction, processing, transmission, storage, liquefaction etc.) and detailed what factors affect emission these ranges (e.g. equipment, procedures).

The study will be carried out in three stages.

“One of the most important research requirements that we identified from our previous paper, was to fully explore what methane’s role is in climate change. Global Warming Potential (GWP) istypically the most common metric used for quantifying how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere. However, depending on the situation being addressed, it may not always be the most appropriate metric. The choice of climate metric can greatly impact on the perceived merits of different technology or policy approaches. We carried out a large review of available metrics and investigated both their suitability to specific situations, and the impact of using different metrics on final emission results,” says Dr Balcombe.

The second aim of the project stems from follow-on work from the White Paper (Methane & CO2 emissions from the natural gas supply chain). The new study will also investigate ‘hotspots’ of uncertainty surrounding estimates of methane emissions across different supply chain equipment and different methods of estimation. This will help industry identify ways to improve measurement and quantification of emissions.

Cargo ship - Sustainable Gas Institute The third part of the study will involve looking at what the role of LNG is as a shipping transport fuel, by considering shipping emissions but also across the whole supply chain from extraction, processing, transmission, storage, liquefaction, delivery and consumption. The work will look at greenhouse gases but also the air quality and economic costs compared against alternative fuel sources, including fuel oil and biofuels.

Claudio Rodriguez, Infrastructures General Manager at Enagás explains:

“As a leading company in the main sustainability indexes, Enagás is strongly committed with climate change and especially with methane emissions reduction all over the value chain. In this sense, partnership with SGI will help us to quantify how natural gas can contribute to a low carbon economy. This study will provide a framework for realistic and updated methane impact consideration, taking into account the different existing climate metrics as well as the uncertainty of both metrics and estimated emissions. Also, the study will provide a better understanding of methane fugitive emissions reduction existing potential at natural gas infrastructures and will help LNG to find its place in the maritime sector in the near future.”

The set of reports will provide a crucial reference document on emissions for academia, the gas industry and policy makers.




Insights into a Brazilian sustainable energy future

Dr Ivan Garcia Kerdan, a research associate at the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), at Imperial College, is developing a specialised energy systems model for Brazil which will help ensure the country has a low carbon economy in the future.

In this short blog post, Ivan tells us about how he is building a picture of the Brazilian energy economy and gathering data for a specialised MUSE-Brazil (funded by FAPESP/Newton Fund). 

Currently Brazil is in a post-World Cup/Olympic hangover, with the country’s economy shrinking for two years in a row. This has resulted in reduction of energy consumption in every sector of the economy. Between 2015 and 2016, the economic sector that suffered the most was Agriculture, where there was a reduction of 10.4% in energy use.  Energy use also has decreased across the energy (by 5.3%) and industrial sectors (1.1%). But on the other hand, the energy sector has increased its domestic supply. Fortunately, the Brazilian economy is already showing good signs of recovery. It is expected that there will be a 60% growth in the domestic energy demand in the next decade, and therefore careful energy planning is needed.

Currently Brazil  has clean energy mix, with 46% of its energy from renewables (hydropower and biofuels). MUSE-Brazil aims to generate plausible transitions to ensure a low carbon energy system remains. The framework for the model is based on a global energy systems model, MUSE , being developed at SGI.  MUSE-Brazil will help us understand what role natural gas (a transitional fuel) and biomethane will play in the energy system in 2050.

So how does Brazil’s developing gas market currently look? 10% of the country’s primary energy supply comes from gas. Brazil’s gas reserves are around 388-453 billion m³, with a daily production rate in 2016 of 103.8 million m³ and a reinjection rate of 35.0 million m³. Brazil also imports 32.1 million m³/day, mainly from the Bolivian pipeline and LNG imports. In the case of biogas and biomethane, despite a large production potential of between 63-100 million m³/day (mainly from agriculture and livestock residues and vinasse),  there are only 33 biogas power generation plants in operation. This accounts for 127 MW installed capacity.

In order to get a better understanding of the current Brazilian energy situation, I visited the largest two cities in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. My first visit in May was to Rio and the EPE (Empresa de Pesquisa Energetica or Department Energy Research). This  department is linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, and supports studies and research in planning the national energy sector.

Interestingly, EPE was created in 2004 after blackouts occurred in the country at the beginning of the century, which was mainly attributed to lack of planning. It was also in this period that the majority of the current gas-based power plants installed capacity were put in place (currently this stands at 12.9 GW), and provides the much-needed energy security to the power system.  Ricardo Gorini’s team from the energy economic department arranged meetings with specialists at each one of these sectors. As part of my work on MUSE-Brazil, I need to fully comprehend the specific characteristics of every energy subsector in the economy and the various interactions between them.

While in Rio, I also visited UFRJ-COPPE Energy Planning department led by Prof Roberto Schaeffer. This department is the first energy planning programme in Brazil and is recognised worldwide for its contributions to the international reports on climate change.  Characterised by an interdisciplinary approach, it associates the technological dimension of energy with political, economic, social and environmental aspects. At COPPE, I learnt  more about their own energy system model (MESSAGE-Brazil) which aims to evaluate Brazil’s role in a low carbon global economy and has been used to produce outputs for government and academic reports.

As part of bigger FAPESP/NERC project, MUSE-Brazil is only a small part of a wider collaborative research with the University of São Paulo (USP), University College London (UCL), University of Cardiff and University of Leeds. Other projects are looking at optimising bio-refinery efficiency, and the socio-economic impacts of bioenergy production, as well as examining land use and ecosystems impact of bioenergy production.

During my first visit to Brazil, I also spent  time at USP which is also the home of the Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI). This Institute works very closely with the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI). RCGI aims to examine the sustainable use of natural gas, biogas, hydrogen and management, transport, storage and and usage of carbon dioxide on a global scale.

In late September, I returned again to São Paulo, and USP to present an update of MUSE-Brazil based on some of my findings from my first trip. Although the model is still in its early stages, this was also an opportunity to present at the joint SGI/RCGI conference, Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation 2017. 

Delegates at the Sustainable Gas Research & Innovation Conference 2017

RCGI projects are spread across three different disciplines: i) Engineering, ii) Physical-Chemistry and iii) Policies and Economics topics. At the conference, some of the most insightful presentations were, “Studies of the application of laser (LIDAR) for atmospheric pollution measurement” by Roberto Guardani, which focused on the application of remote sensing to measure fugitive emissions associated with the petroleum industry. I also enjoyed the presentation given by Renato Romio and Clayton Barcelos, “Development of a hybrid penta-fuel flex vehicle” which uses big data techniques to understand the use of a hybrid car in real traffic conditions with the aim of improving efficiency in the transport sector. It is planned that some of these outputs, directly or indirectly will be used in MUSE-Brazil to populate the model.

Ivan in São Paulo

Several contacts and collaborations have been put in place from this visit.  I am looking forward for the upcoming year and expecting great results from this collaboration. Most importantly, the insights gained from my experience at both at UFRJ/EPE in Rio de Janeiro and USP in São Paulo has been crucial for understanding the requirements, needs, and challenges of the energy sector in Brazil.

What I am taking away from my time working in Brazil is that although there is still plenty of research to do, we are following the right path to understand the potential of Brazil in a low carbon economy. More data and modelling efforts are still necessary to produce robust outputs with MUSE-Brazil. The model should be ready by April 2019; we will provide open access to the code and the majority of the data.

About the author: Ivan is currently based in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College. He has a degree and MSc from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a PhD in the Energy Institute at University College London. His areas of interest are energy analysis, thermodynamics, low-carbon technologies, energy systems modelling and optimisation.

Women from Imperial College are finding innovative energy solutions

36797As today is International Women’s Day (IWD), we wanted to celebrate the contribution women are making to tackling climate change.

Dr Sara Budinis, a chemical engineer from Imperial College, provides her thoughts on the subject during Women@Imperial Week, an annual celebration of the achievements of female staff and students at Imperial past and present.

What contributions have women made to climate change and future energy?

At Imperial College, women have contributed to finding innovative solutions for providing energy in many different ways.

For example, there is work on transferring waste wood material into fuel (Florence Gschwend, Chemical Engineering Department) as well as research into gathering wind and vibrational energy from existing city infrastructure in order to produce renewable energy (Charlotte Slingsby, Innovation Design Engineering MSc/MA)

We also have researchers developing open-source biorenewable system models, providing insights into sustainable design of future biorenewable systems (Miao Guo, Chemical Engineering Department).

What women could do to bring about change and finding solutions to tackle climate change?

20170202_135211 smaller
I think women’s potential is still unexplored, given that currently only 12.8% of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics workforce is female.

Can you even imagine what would happen if we could go to 30%, 50% or even above that? At this point in time we need to inspire girls towards science and engineering, and convey our love for our profession to our daughters (and sons ofcourse!).

I recently attended a talk given by our vice-provost for education, Professor Simone Buitendijk, where she said that “you cannot be what you cannot see” and I couldn’t agree more.

This picture was taken during that talk, and the movie “Hidden Figures” was used to show hidden women who changed the world.

earth-108068_1920 smallHow can we nurture women’s leadership in climate change movements?
A recent report from the United Nation has shown how much women are directly affected by climate change, and this should reinforce even more our engagement into this field.

With great power comes great responsibility (yes, we need superheroes and superpowers) and therefore we need to have a system in place to facilitate juggling the multiple commitments women have to face towards their profession but also towards their private life, for instance if they are taking care of children, relatives and family members.

In particular, the parental responsibility should be shared, when possible, among the parents, so that having a family would not affect women more than men when in the workplace.

CCS-report-170516-001-smaller ZQHow are you contributing?
Last year, I worked on a paper that explored the potential role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) over the next 85 years.

I am currently modelling how the industrial sector could evolve into the future in order to meet our demand for material commodities while reducing its impact towards the environment.

This module is part of an energy systems model called MUSE, which is being launched in the Summer.

The aim of the model is to see which innovative technologies could reduce energy costs, improve efficiency, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Here are some further thoughts from our team at the Sustainable Gas Institute:-
Yingjian Gao b&w

“There is no wonder that women’s capability in driving technological innovation and conducting statistical analysis should be appreciated. Moreover, women’s advantage in conveying emotion in communication can be very useful in drawing public attention and raising public awareness to help tackling climate change.”

[Yingjian Guo]


“There are many aspects which will make women a key player to limit climate change effects. I believe that the major one would be to educate future generations and increase awareness about our responsibility towards the conservation of the environment.”

[Dr Sara Giarola, Research Fellow]

Julia Sachs b&w 3

“Women have a unique position when it comes to climate change due their central role in families and communities in particular in rural regions.  Women stand at the front lines in the battle against climate change. They have a broad knowledge and experience in the management of natural resources and higher sensibility to climate change that can be used to change the consumption pattern in their daily lives that shrink their carbon footprint and adapt to new sustainable methods or technologies.

Helping women gain further access to information about new technologies and supporting the expansion of women’s rights and their leadership in climate-related activities can increase the mitigation of climate change worldwide.”

[Dr Julia Sachs, Research Associate]

VIDEO: Developing the natural gas section for a Global Energy Systems Model (MUSE)

This short two-minute film features, Yingjian Guo, a PhD student at the Department of Chemical Engineering, at Imperial College.

Yingjian’s PhD is looking at exploring the role of natural gas transport and distribution infrastructure in Future Low Carbon Energy Systems.

In this short film (a series of three student films), Yingjian describes her motivations for working in the area of energy and climate change.

She also talks about working on the natural gas module of the MUSE (Modular Universal energy system Simulation Environment), which is a new model that SGI is developing to analyse energy systems at a global level.

A beta version of the MUSE energy systems model will be available in July 2016 . If you want to find out more about the model, please read our MUSE page.

VIDEO: Developing the transport model for a Global Energy Systems Model (MUSE)

This short two minute film features Arnaud Koehl, a PhD student at the School of Public Health, at Imperial College who also works at the Grantham Institute and at the Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI).

Arnaud studied International Relations in France and Environmental Economics at UCL. He is now exploring the the kind of sustainable transport policies that could co-benefit health and the economy while addressing climate change.

In this short film (a series of three student films), Arnaud describes his motivations for working in the area of energy and climate change.

He also talks about working on the transport module of the MUSE (Modular Universal energy system Simulation Environment), which is a new model that SGI is developing to analyse energy systems at a global level.

Investigating the state of low-carbon transport policies at COP22

Last week, Arnaud Koehl, a PhD researcher at the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College, attended the United Nations Conference of the Parties COP22 climate conference in Marrakech. Arnaud is investigating the kind of sustainable transport policies that could co-benefit health and the economy while addressing climate change.


The importance of transport in combating climate change

The transport sector represents about 14% of worldwide greenhouse gases emissions (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, 2010). More worryingly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects a huge growth in private motorised modes of transport; according to these estimates, there will be around 2 billion cars on the roads by 2040! It is therefore paramount that we find low-carbon pathways that will meet the increasing demand for mobility.

So how will these transport emissions (addressed by the Paris Agreement) be enforced by 2020? The way the Agreement is framed relies on the good will of each nation or signatory: countries put forward policies to reduce greenhouse gases emissions for each economic sector (e.g. industry, agriculture, housing) themselves. The legal name for these voluntary targets is “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC). This architecture provides the flexibility needed to address climate policies according to the local context. This strategy proved to be quite successful as three out of four of all countries mention transport in their INDCs.

Cycle-sharing demonstration scheme in front of COP22

Lessons from COP22: Chinese engagement, policy trends and international cooperation

In the spirit of the Paris Agreement, COP22 proposes a “strong vision, light touch”. I was particularly interested in what this meant for China. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), an important governmental body, just released a report titled “China’s policies and actions for addressing climate change – 2016” .

This report mentions that fuel efficiency improved by 15.9% (2005) for private cars and ships and by 13.5% (2016) for the civil aviation sector. A director at the NDRC, whom I interviewed, stressed that this was the result of an emphasis on “green, circular, low-carbon” policies imposed on the private sector within the 12th (2011 -2015) and 13th  (2016-2020) five-year plans of the Chinese government. He was also clear on the fact that these policies are being tested and implemented through thousands of projects around China.

In terms of transport modes, I found a clear consensus on acknowledging the benefits of implementing bus-1678945_640Bus Rapid Transit systems across populated urban areas. These are dedicated lanes, typically in the center of the road. The increased use of trains and trams were also leading to a consensus between representatives from differing nations, such as Ethiopia and the United States. Smarter forms of using private motorised modes, such as carpooling, car-sharing, on-demand taxis were also seen as potential ways of reducing emissions.


Beyond its final results, COP22 was also the opportunity to seal partnerships to spread good practices internationally. Initiatives from official actors and civil society are soaring in an attempt to implement green policies on time. A good example is Mobilise Your City, gathering 100 cities around the world supporting local governments in developing countries to plan and foster sustainable low-carbon urban mobility. A core belief that Mobilise Your City is promoting among its members is that improving mobility is only relevant if there is a net well-being effect.

How research at the Sustainable Gas Institute can help

muse-2At the start of the year, I was working on the transport module of a new energy systems model developed by researchers at Sustainable Gas Institute (SGI), Imperial College London. The model is called MUSE (Modular Universal energy system Simulation Environment). The aim is that industry will be able to use the model for technology and R&D roadmapping, while it will help international governments make future plans for climate change mitigation.

Uses of the MUSE Model

MUSE could help answer key COP22 issues. Many participants at COP-22 stressed the lack of research on freight transport, despite the fact that it represents half of overall transport emissions. By taking into account freight-related transportation, MUSE enables us how to assess how policy-makers could avoid unwanted developments, such as a spread of high polluting cars, by looking at the incidence of the price of new technologies based on factors such as economic growth.

Another major opportunity would be to look at the improvement in fuel efficiency of current technologies, such as diesel, petrol and hybrid. Indeed, the share of electric vehicles in the world’s fleet will soar, but fossil fuel powered vehicles will remain an important part of the equation until 2050.

electric-car-558344_640Finally, the MUSE model allows to test such interventions at the national level, which is a relevant scale as powerful policy-makers are often found in capitals. Sanjay Sath, from The Energy and Resources Institute, and Jose Viegas, from the International Transportation Forum expressed the necessity of adopting a dual approach, by implementing national policies at the local level. In that perspective, many highlighted the critical need to get more indicators measuring the progress of environmental policies on the ground to ensure of actual improvement of well-being. An example of such indicators is the proximity of public transport to social housing.

MUSE could make the most of the currently available data in order to give an insight on the future place of transport in urban dynamics, and thus help calculating these indicators further.

You can find out more about MUSE here.